The early stages of sobriety can be difficult as you undergo alcohol withdrawal, but long-term sobriety becomes easier if you learn to manage relapse triggers.
“When I chose to stop drinking, I never knew it would last. What I did know was that I needed a change.”
Article at a Glance:
It is normal to have some feelings of uncertainty and discomfort when you decide to stop drinking, but over the long term, sobriety comes with numerous benefits.
Relapse is a normal part of the sobriety journey, and it is necessary to engage in ongoing treatment and learn to manage relapse triggers to achieve lasting sobriety.
After you spend more and more time abstinent from alcohol, sobriety will begin to feel like routine for you. You can expect to learn new habits and new ways of enjoying life without alcohol.
Deciding You Need To Change Your Drinking
5 Stages of Change
According to the transtheoretical model of change, people go through five stages when they decide to make a change like getting help for an addiction.
- Pre-contemplation: At this stage, a person with a drinking problem or addiction is not yet thinking about making changes. Other people may notice that the person engages in problematic drinking, but the person does not yet recognize the alcohol addiction as being a problem that requires help.
- Contemplation: Someone who is thinking about getting help for addiction is probably at least in the contemplation stage of change. At this point, they may begin to acknowledge that drinking or substance abuse has created problems, and they may need help to stop.
- Preparation: As the name might suggest, this stage involves making plans to begin changing. For instance, a person who is dealing with an addiction may set a date to stop drinking or schedule an appointment with a treatment provider.
- Action: Next, a person going through the stages of change enters the action stage, where their plans for change come to fruition. It is during this stage that a person begins going to 12-Step meetings or attending appointments with an addiction counselor.
- Maintenance: The final stage of change occurs when someone has been sober for six months or more and has created lasting change. This doesn’t mean that they stop going to treatment, but rather that the recovery process has created sustainable change. It is important to continue receiving support and services to remain in the maintenance stage.
When you decide to make a change and give up drinking, you can expect to have some doubts and anxiety in the beginning. For example, in the contemplation stage, you may have some feelings of uncertainty. Think about how you can move forward to the preparation stage, where getting help for addiction becomes a reality. Knowing that people go through change in stages can ease some of your fears over getting help for alcohol addiction.
Benefits of Quitting Alcohol
If you are thinking about getting help for alcohol addiction and are in the contemplation stage, consider some of the benefits of quitting drinking. Knowing that you will experience positive outcomes if you quit can give you the confidence to move forward into the preparation stage. Consider some of the following benefits of giving up drinking:
- Reduced risk of cancer. Drinking alcohol increases the risk of cancer, and there is really no known safe limit of alcohol consumption when it comes to cancer risk. When you stop drinking, you lower your odds of cancer and even your risk of death. In fact, research shows that alcohol is responsible for about 376,200 cancer-related deaths each year and is a major cause of multiple common types of cancer. A recent study by The Recovery Village found heavy alcohol use increases your chances of cancer by 48%.
- Improved psychological functioning. Alcohol can have a negative effect on your psychological functioning. For example, you may feel upbeat or even elated while under the influence, only to find that you are anxious, irritable or depressed when not drinking. This can lead to mood swings and difficulty getting along with others. It is no surprise, then, that a recent study found that compared to heavy drinkers, those who stopped drinking or limited their drinking had better psychosocial functioning.
- Enhanced mental functioning. Long-term alcohol abuse is associated with deficits in cognitive functioning, which can include problems with memory and attention. Fortunately, research shows that within the first 10 days of giving up drinking, people experience improvements in memory, visual processing, and overall mental functioning. When you give up drinking and are successful with long-term abstinence, you are likely to feel more mentally sharp.
- Better relationships and work performance. One symptom of an alcohol use disorder, which is the clinical term for alcohol addiction, is difficulty fulfilling duties at work or home. Another symptom is continuing to drink, despite alcohol abuse causing problems in personal relationships. When you stop drinking and seek help for alcohol abuse, you are likely to find that you are better able to perform at work, manage duties at home, and give attention to personal relationships, such as those with your spouse, children and friends.
What Happens to Your Body When You Drink Alcohol
Moderate amounts of alcohol may seem harmless, but heavy drinking can be dangerous because alcohol causes numerous effects on the body. Here is what happens in your body when you drink:
- The body prioritizes alcohol metabolism. The body views alcohol as a toxin and cannot store it like fats, proteins or carbohydrates, so when you consume alcohol, it places all of its energy on metabolizing the alcohol and clearing it from the body. The liver is involved in this process, which is why heavy alcohol abuse can cause liver damage.
- Heart damage can occur. Alcohol abuse damages the cardiovascular system and can lead to irregular heartbeats, high blood pressure and weakness in the heart muscle.
- Weakened immune system. Drinking heavily can damage the immune system, so you may find that you get illnesses like colds more frequently if you are a regular drinker.
- Toxic effects. When you consume more alcohol than your liver can efficiently process, it takes a toll on your body, especially the liver. Alcoholic metabolism causes the buildup of molecules that stop the liver from burning fat, which is what leads to liver problems over time.
What You Can Expect When You Quit Drinking Alcohol
While there are benefits to giving up alcohol, you can expect an uncomfortable withdrawal period when you first stop drinking, especially if you have been drinking heavily and your body is dependent upon alcohol.
Here is what you can expect during alcohol withdrawal:
- Symptoms that begin within eight hours of the last drink and peak within 1–3 days
- Mental health effects like depression, anxiety, irritability and mood swings
- Sleep problems, nightmares and fatigue
- Sweating and tremors
- Gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea and vomiting
In extreme cases, alcohol withdrawal can cause delirium tremens (DTs), a potentially life-threatening condition that involves symptoms like fever, severe confusion, hallucinations and seizures. Heavy drinkers are 90% more likely than their peers to experience DTs.
Detox programs can help you manage symptoms of alcohol withdrawal so that you can remain as safe and comfortable as possible while your body rids itself of alcohol. Alcohol withdrawal can be fatal, so it is important to have the help of a professional alcohol detox program when you undergo withdrawal.
My Decision To Go Sober
I was 27 years old with nothing to show for it, and I barely recognized the person I had become. I had no real direction for my life, and I felt lost — I was drained emotionally, physically and spiritually. Something was wrong, but I didn’t know what it was or how to fix it. I couldn’t keep going the way that I had been, but I realized I had to try something different. That was when I decided to try sobriety.
For me, the first year of not drinking was an emotional time with many ups and downs. It’s a period when you discover who you really are and see the reasons behind why you drank while also learning how to heal without abusing alcohol. Getting sober is a little easier when you know what to expect, so here are a few things you should be prepared for in your first year of sobriety.
30 Days Sober
The first 30 days of sobriety might be the hardest. Depending on how you decide to stop using alcohol, you may be going through detox, attending addiction treatment, or participating in AA or NA meetings. In a survey of people who’d undergone alcohol detox, 72% did so at home and 28% did so at a rehab facility or medical center. More than half (64%) of all people in recovery from alcohol have some form of outside help when they start their recovery.
Regardless of which recovery path you choose, the first 30 days will be a rollercoaster. Your body will first be getting rid of all of the substances inside, and you may feel tired, sick and anxious. In my first 30 days of sobriety, I felt bloated and exhausted, and it was weeks before I began to feel well-rested and normal again.
On top of physical discomfort from alcohol withdrawal, you will experience strong emotions. Many of us turn to alcohol to numb our feelings, and I went for years without really feeling what was going on around me.
In the first 30 days of my sobriety, I cried, laughed and felt everything deeply — even my sense of smell was deeper. In your first 30 days, you can expect to slowly come out of the fog created by drugs and alcohol.
90 Days Sober
When you reach 90 days of sobriety, you’ll likely feel a bit more relaxed. However, you may begin feeling sad and confused about your relationship with drugs and alcohol. Feelings of shame, guilt and depression are all normal, and these feelings can be worked through. You may also begin grieving the relationship you had with your substances of choice.
Throughout your first three months of sobriety, you’ll begin to learn new, healthier coping mechanisms. Sobriety will start to become a routine part of your daily life, and things like therapy and meetings can be incorporated nicely into your schedule.
Getting through each day will slowly become easier and more normal to you, and you’ll begin to find new hobbies that don’t include drugs or alcohol.
6 Months Sober
The six-month mark is where you may begin to feel comfortable with your sobriety. However, this feeling of comfort can also be dangerous. It’s possible you’ll experience a phenomenon called the “pink cloud,” meaning you’re happy about everything and feel invincible because of your newfound sobriety. Although the pink cloud feels good, it can give you a false sense of security.
After six months, you should be aware of your triggers in sobriety. Certain people, places and things might remind you of when you used to use substances, and you should work to avoid these things. Eventually, you may be able to be present and sober in situations that used to tempt you, but it’s best not to take chances in the beginning.
At six months, you’ll also get your clarity back and begin to like being sober. Six months was the turning point for me — it was when I thought that I could really get used to this sobriety thing.
1 Year Sober
When you get to one year of sobriety, you’ll breathe a sigh of relief. One year is a major feat, and you should be proud of yourself — you’ve gone 365 days without a drink or a drug! When I reached one year, I was happy and I felt accomplished. I knew that I could do something difficult and let go of substances that used to rule my life.
I believe the one-year mark was when I began to truly discover who I am as a person. I embraced my new sober identity, and I lived through events I never thought I could endure without drinking.
After a year of sobriety, you might graduate from a sober living facility and go on to build a happy, healthy life with your family and friends. In addition, you’ll have built a support system through counseling, 12-step meetings or other recovery groups. Achieving one year of sobriety gives you hope that you can have continued success in your new, sober life.
The one-year mark was when I knew sobriety was for me. I knew I wanted to continue on this path, and each year it has only gotten better. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it. The first year of sobriety will be the hardest but also the most rewarding, and it will help you feel like a new person in a new world of possibility.
How Long Till I Am Sober?
Your journey toward sobriety can begin the moment you enter the contemplation stage and then move toward the preparation stage, making plans to stop drinking and attend treatment. Once you quit drinking and become sober, sobriety will become a lifelong choice that requires ongoing treatment. Everyone’s treatment journey will be different, but research suggests that people need at least three months in treatment to stop drinking and using drugs, but treatment even longer than this is typically warranted.
Even if you achieve a period of long-term sobriety, keep in mind that relapses are a normal part of addiction recovery. When over a thousand people were surveyed about their recovery from alcohol, 71% admitted relapsing at some point.
Throughout your life, you will continue to be exposed to triggers, such as stress or people you used to drink with, that may increase your risk of relapse. It is important that you develop coping strategies for managing these triggers and maintain a support network of other sober people. If you do experience relapse, it is important not to view it as a failure but rather to take the opportunity to return to treatment or modify whatever treatment plan you’ve been following.
If you are thinking about giving up drinking and are seeking services and support, The Recovery Village is here to help. We have locations across the country, and we are qualified to treat alcohol addiction and co-occurring mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. Contact us today to learn about our service offerings and how we can help you give up drinking or drug use.
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